City of Scranton v. Firefighters Local Union (majority)Annotate this Case
Consolidating several appeals, the Supreme Court addressed the effect of a municipality's financial distress and recovery planning on an arbitration award agreed to pursuant to the Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act (Act). For approximately twenty years, the City of Scranton has been designated a distressed municipality under the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act. Pursuant to the Recovery Act, the City has its Commonwealth-mandated financial advisors who assist in creating a financial recovery plan (essentially a budget). In the most recent collective bargaining agreements between the City of Scranton and its Police and Firefighter Unions expired at the close of 2002. Negotiations as to future terms and work conditions for union members resulted in impasses. Accordingly, pursuant to the Act, arbitrators were selected to establish appropriate terms and conditions. Throughout the arbitrations, the City maintained that the arbitrators lacked legal authority to award relief impinging on the City's financial recovery plan. The City attempted to resist paying the ensuing award that resulted from the arbitration. The Commonwealth Court found that it was required to vacate the awards, holding that they did not conform to the City's Recovery Plan and would result in increased financial and operational burdens on an already distressed municipality. The Unions appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court focused on the distinction between the terms "arbitration award" and "arbitration settlement": the City argued that it was not mandated to pay "awards" but "settlements." The Supreme Court found the term "settlement" ambiguous, and the plain meaning could include the "award" given by the arbitrators in this case. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court's order that the award negatively impacted the City's Recovery Plan.